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Literature Reviews: 1. Choose Your Topic

This interdisciplinary guide describes the basic steps of doing a literature review.

Choosing Your Topic

Choose a topic that you find interesting. This will make the process more enjoyable and ultimately more rewarding.

Make sure the topic you choose has already been researched by others so that you’ll be able to find relevant articles to review. Having the most interesting topic in the world won’t help you write a literature review if no one else has written about it previously.  It might even be a good idea to come up with a few different ideas and do some preliminary research on each. That way if you find that your first choice topic hasn’t been explored much you’ll have something to fall back on.

Background Information

To begin your research, it's a good idea to seek out an overview of your topic.  Background information can provide you with:

  • keywords and search terms to use to find more information on your topic
  • an overview of the basic theories and/or major themes that are associated with your topic

The library has many resources, both electronic and in print that can help you discover a broad view of a subject.  Encyclopedias can provide you with a brief overview of of a topic, and lead you to other scholarship on the topic.

  • Gale Virtual Reference Library: Search a collection of hundreds of high quality reference books, including encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographies, and handbooks.
  • MedlinePlus:  Learn basics about health topics.

    Currency

         For some disciplines, including medicine and the sciences, the currency or timeliness of the literature is key.  For other disciplines, including the arts and many humanities, currency of research is not so important. Seminal or landmark studies can be relevant many decades later.